It’s a question that crops up with relative frequency. Students often ask me, eyes narrowed, as if they suspect something is afoul, ‘but do you have a real Australian accent?’ They are familiar with the American twangs and the rhythm of the British accent. They are au fait with the various accents of the Europeans who speak English as a second (or third or fourth) language. But then they meet an Aussie and she sounds nothing like Crocodile Dundee or Steve Irwin. Is she faking it? Is she really Australian? Or worse … is she an Australian who speaks like a Brit?
Recently a couple of my friends – both British, coincidentally – sent me this article. One wanted to know if it was actually real, and to what extent, and the other was quite fascinated and wanted to know more. I could happily confirm knowledge of 99% of the slang the article mentioned – although I only use about 20% of it myself. Off the back of this depressing news, however, I am tempted to consciously weave more Australian slang into my daily speech – we cannot let it die out, it is too special. (Australian slang, by the way, comes mostly from Cockney slang, and probably deserves an entire dedicated post. Leave it with me.)
So, what does an Australian sound like? Do we have regional accents? Do we sound more British or American (a question I am loathe to field, because I don’t think we sound like either).
Firstly, let’s get this out there:
Not everyone speaks like this (but some people do …)
Or like this (but some people do …)
Or like this (but some people do …). It gets good at about 1.18 and yes, he does say ‘flamin”, it’s his signature.
In terms of regional accents, give us time. As a western nation, we are a young country (but, really, Australia has been inhabited for 40,000 years) and we simply haven’t had the time to develop overtly regional accents. There are differences between how someone from, say, Darwin might speak, compared to someone from Sydney. The vowels may be flatter, the rhythm more laconic, drawn out. Melbournians do weird things to the ‘l’ sound – ‘al‘ instead of ‘el’. People from the bush (or the country, or the Outback) tend to have the classic accent that most people associate with Australia. (Roy starts speaking at about 27 seconds and he is wonderful to listen to. A lot of ‘bloody’.)
This guy does a great rundown of regional differences that currently exist (and the Aussie propensity to completely halve words and sentences.)
At the time of European settlement, there were hundreds of Aboriginal languages being spoken across the country. As their languages and cultural practices were stamped out, and English settled as the official language of a now British colony, indigenous Australians learning the language formed their own, distinct accents that influenced the overall development of the Australian accent, which began undergoing, very quickly, its separation from the predominantly English and Irish accents as brought over by the convicts.
Immigration, which has been a fundamental part of Australia’s history as a western nation, has and will continue to help shape the overall Australian accent and regional differences. From the moment England colonised Australia, we have had patterns of immigration that have formed a rich, unique vernacular. Each culture that has come cross the seas and settled in Australia has lent its own inflections and emphases to the Aussie accent, things that have filtered down and out through generations and helped shape the way we speak.
I think I sound Australian. Perhaps in isolation, it isn’t so apparent, but when I am around my other English-speaking friends, I can hear how Australian I sound. I think there is a neutral gear I slip into, for ease of being perfectly clear and understood as an English teacher, and as a foreigner. And, of course, being far from home, and having no Australian friends here, the inflections and rhythms and vowel sounds and diphthongs I am surrounded by belong to Germans, Americans, British people – I hear more Spanish and Russian accents than I do Australian – so there is no passive maintenance of my accent by virtue of hearing it or engaging with someone else who also has it. (There’s a Kiwi around, and I love Kiwis, but I do not love their vowels.) I know that SG wishes he sounded more Australian – and both of us are always so surprised when people say his English has Aussie tinges – and practices his ‘g’day mate’ every so often, just to make sure he gets the appropriate length on his ‘a’ sound. He drew a lot of inspiration from these guys, when we were binge watching My Kitchen Rules. (They start talking at about 30 seconds).
I’ll leave you with two excellent comments on the Australian accent – and travelling around Australia in general. The first is an all time favourite of mine, from comedian Adam Hills.
And this guy nails it. It isn’t easy to do an Australian accent, but I will give him this one. Warning, he’s Scottish and bounces between that impenetrable accent and a very good middle-of-nowhere Aussie accent. You’ll need to concentrate.